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Market Insights - BC Waterfront Real Estate

There are a lot of "how-to" articles online that regurgitate the same advice about real estate related topics such as getting a good mortgage or prepping your home for the market. While those things are obviously very important, we want to write articles that are enlightening and valuable for visitors to our site. Rather than write about the same-old, same-old, we endeavour to create interesting and compelling articles specifically for people interested in (BC) waterfront real estate.

Thanks for reading.
Sharleen Kneeland
Publisher, Waterfront West

Canadian Boomers Driving Gulf Islands Waterfront Market

As I began my research into the Gulf Islands this week, I came up with mixed reports of sales activity. As you will see below, the higher priced markets previously driven by US buyers are suffering, while islands with more affordable waterfront are still busy. Canadian boomers planning to retire in the next few years are keeping the markets active for waterfront property in the Gulf Islands.

I spoke with a few of our member real estate agents about the areas they work including Savary Island, Denman, Hornby and Gabriola Islands. In addition, I spoke briefly to Scott Simmons about the Salt Spring Island waterfront market. Here's the scoop:

Savary Island

Savary is a small boat access only island, located at the northern tip of the Sunshine Coast and is rumored to be the closest thing to a tropical isle you will find in BC. Rick Thaddeus, our member agent on Savary and owner of www.savary.ca says, "since the early 1900's people have come to Savary Island, drawn by its sandy beaches and temperate climate." .

While Savary used to be a destination popular with in-the-know Vancouverites, Rick says Albertans as well as locals from the Sunshine Coast are discovering this little paradise. While beachfront properties rarely change hands, Rick says a few south bank listings sold in a hurry last summer. He has recently listed a new one (details below) and expects a couple more in the near future so stay tuned to the site if you are interested.

Savary Island, South Bank Cabin & Studio

Savary for sale

Denman and Hornby Islands:

Denman and Hornby are located off the East Coast of Vancouver Island about 20 minutes drive south of Courtenay. While many people live on the islands year-round, Hornby is a favorite vacation spot for locals, with fantastic sandy swimming beaches.

Jack Forsyth of RE/MAX The Islands reports that although waterfront prices have increased over the past couple of years (resulting in lower sales volume) the market is strong for waterfront properties priced between $500,000 -$600,000 as well as large waterfront acreages priced up to $1, 500 000. He also says that non-waterfront acreages (5 acres+) with a cottage are extremely popular when available.

Who is buying on Denman and Hornby? According to Jack, the majority of buyers are from the Lower Mainland and Alberta. He noted the popularity of the islands has increased due to Westjet's direct flights to the Comox Valley which make Denman and Hornby easily accessible from Edmonton & Calgary. He has also noticed a decrease in US buyers, most likely due to the falling US dollar, although he says Americans only comprised about 10% of the market in the past.

Two more tidbits from Denman/Hornby:

The office has noticed an increase in serious waterfront buyers in the last few weeks. It seems that people looking last summer are making decisions so they can get ready for next spring/summer or maybe even have their vacation home ready for Christmas.

Most of the buyers looking here are purchasing their properties as vacation homes, although some are considering retiring to the islands in the long term.

Here is a recently reduced value pick from Jack's office (apparently a beautiful property):

Oceanfront Acreage $598, 000

Denman Island

Gabriola Island

A 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo, Gabriola provides an alternative for those who want to live on a Gulf Island but be a hop-skip and a jump from a major centre.

Carol Martin of Coast Realty Gabriola and owner of the web site www.gabriolamudgerealestate.com, says that the majority of the buyers on Gabriola are Canadian, coming from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. As in most of our other regions, the buyers are looking for a recreational property to retire to in a few years.

What's hot on Gabriola? Carol says they are seeing quite a few lower priced properties with and without homes being sold. At the other end of the spectrum, large acreages, with and without oceanfront are also hot.

Salt Spring Island

I have been visiting Salt Spring Island every summer for over 15 years and what I couldn't believe this year was how much busier the island is getting. Judging by the crowds, number of vendors and lack of parking space at the popular Saturday market, I was sure there was some sort of event in town. I even went so far as to ask someone if this was the case, but was assured that this was just normal. On a recent second trip in late September, the market was still buzzing so it seems this is a permanent change.

From an outsider's view, this can be seen as a positive thing. My husband and I had friends who bought on Salt Spring a few years ago and decided to raise their family there. They sold when they realized that the commute into Victoria (and subsequent sleep overs at friends' houses) was getting to be too much for them. Now, it seems that there are more community resources to support young families, and possibly more island based jobs on the way with the growing population.

I spoke to Scott Simmons, who writes a blog on Salt Spring real estate and recently posted an article about the "buyer's market" currently taking place in the waterfront market there as a result of the decline of the US dollar. Although it seems things have picked up a bit since this blog post, he still says it's a great time to buy right now with a good supply of listings available. Indeed, a quick MLS search shows 56 waterfront properties available on Salt Spring right now, ranging from $799, 000 to just under a cool 6 million. Scott says US buyers have all but disappeared and for a long time they were keeping the waterfront market active, so now might be a good time to take a second look at Salt Spring if you had written it off.

Summary

After taking a look at these Gulf Island micro markets, here are my conclusions:

  • The majority of waterfront buyers are buying a vacation home which they plan to retire to.
  • Islands with waterfront acreages available under $1, 500 000 and single family waterfront under $600,000 (and even $1, 000 000 IMHO are still seeing lots of interest).
  • Properties (specifically small acreages with cabin) under $400, 000 are a hot commodity.
  • Markets further South (Salt Spring) with higher price points that have depended on US buyers have slowed down (my guess is $2, 000 000+ price range).
  • Lower Mainlanders and Albertans are driving the market, while Canadians from other areas (Ontario, Saskatchewan, etc..) are getting in on the action as well. Europeans are shopping but not the same extent as in the Williams Lake area.
 
Finally one last property to highlight, and one that looks like a spectacular piece of waterfront to me (I see a lot of photos) although I can't say I've seen it in person.

 

This south-facing Protection Island (just off of Nanaimo) property was just reduced by about $80, 000 and might be worth a look (click photo for details):

protection island for sale

 

 

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Williams Lake Highest Single Family Waterfront Sales in BC

After sharing last week's stats with you, I decided to delve deeper into each of the top 5 areas to find out the scoop about the waterfront sales activity in these regions. Beginning with our top jurisdiction, I had a conversation with our member real estate agent Freddy Marks of LandQuest Realty about the buzzing waterfront activity around Williams Lake.

Freddy was not suprised when I told him that the Williams Lake (rural) jurisdiction had the highest number of single family waterfront sales so far this year. In fact, with it's plethora of lakes, this area is consistently a top performer for waterfront sales in B.C.. Freddy cited the roaring economy, including the current success of Mount Polley mine (copper/gold) in the area and exploration in the area leading to rumors of more to come (Skygold Ventures , Hawthorne Gold ). In addition to the strong local economy, he pointed to out of province and international interest in the area as the drive behind the market. Although waterfront prices have risen in this region (from an average selling price of $150, 078 in 2005 to $278, 276 this year) prices are still a far cry from waterfront prices in other popular areas of B.C., making a little piece of paradise much more affordable to the average buyer.

According to Freddy, the hottest lakes right now are the larger ones including Quesnel and Horsefly Lakes. He says that smaller lakes are popular too but when prime properties come up (easily accessible/private) they are snapped up quickly. Freddy estimates that 40% of his buyers are buying their primary residence for immediate retirement, while the other 60% are investors, buyers who plan to retire in a few years, foreign buyers, vacation property purchasers and locals.

Where exactly do these buyers come from? As expected, many are from Alberta and the Lower Mainland; however, Freddy estimates that 35% of his business is from Europe (Germany, the UK and Netherlands) and mentioned that even with the falling US dollar, American buyers are still purchasing in the area (more on this, inlcuding stats from our site in an upcoming blog).

Here are some of Freddy's value picks for the area:

1. Lowry's Resort

According to Freddy, some of the best (subdividable) lakefront on Quenel Lake.

resort for sale

 

2. Crooked Lake Resort - Motivated Sellers, Prime Lakefront (leasehold)

crooker lake resort

3. Acreage with 500 feet Riverfront

fraser river front for sale

 

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End of Summer Spells Super Waterfront Shopping

As the summer fades into the dreary days of autumn and our thoughts turn to work, school and winter festivities, now could be the best time to look back at those waterfront properties you had your eye on over the summer.

If you want to get a jump on other buyers and have your property ready to go for next summer, the time to start shopping is now. At Waterfront West , we had predicted an upswing in site visitors in early Spring last year; however, we were suprised that the jump in visitors to our site began on as early as December 29th . From December to January, our unique daily visitors almost doubled, with no additional advertising on our part. Many recreational buyers want to have their property purchased and useable for the summer season so they start shopping early, very early.

From our experience and talk with industry insiders, the "slow season" (if there is one!) in the B.C. recreational real estate market is October-December. Last year, we noticed a number of price reductions on properties that had been on the market during the high season and not sold. This year, although to a lesser extent, we have noticed the same trend. As many real estate investers know, the best time to buy is when the pressure is off the market so the next couple of months may present some good buying opportunities!

In the coming weeks, we will be featuring some properties on this blog that have been reduced in price and that our subscribing real estate agents believe represent exceptional value in the waterfront market, so please stay tuned!

 

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Market Insights - Waterfront Real Estate

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